don't show + tell

Trans Soldiers Are a Terrorist Bathroom Joke to NPR. But What About Real-Life T-roops?

Sometimes NPR is home to reasonable discussions about queers. Other times, not so much. But for a radio network that’s living in a confused world of outing, it’s gone farther than even we expected in making fun of Americans who don’t stick to gender norms.

By making intersexed folks the punchline on this weekend’s installment of NPR’s current events game show Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!.

The comedy program takes current events and has its guests (and sometimes, callers) run through various exercises of guessing who or what they’re talking about. It’s a game show for the culture elite. Except last weekend, one of the show’s segments featured comments made by Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (on NPR) regarding “transgenders and hermaphrodites,” who would, he said, be able to serve openly if the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy is repealed — which we covered here.

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It did not go well.

Peter Sagal (Show Host): Duncan Hunter: He’s a Republican Congressman and military veteran, He went on All Things Considered and he said…

Duncan Hunter (audioclip): “Well, if you let the gays in, then you’ll have to let in the quote ‘transgenders and hermaphrodites.’ Unquote.”

Carl Kasell: Huh.

Peter Sagal: He said that. He was worried about the hermaphrodites. He doesn’t understand that hermaphrodites would be a tactical asset: They can pursue enemies into both men’s and women’s restrooms.

Adam Felber: That’s true. Yeah.

Julia Sweeney: Then maybe…

Peter Sagal: The Taliban would have no place to hide.

Adam Felber: I don’t think we have any laws on the books preventing hermaphrodites from serving in our military, do we?

Peter Sagal: Well…he’s afraid that they will figure that out.

Mo Rocca: They fall under the Don’t Ask, Can’t Tell policy.

Julia Sweeney: *Laughs*

Adam Felber raises and interesting question in the program: What happens to the DADT debate if someone asks about trans and intersex people serving in the military?

We’re not sure how many Taliban fighters spend their time hiding out in public restrooms, but Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!’s jokes are lame to be sure—not just these, but pretty much all of them. One’s inclined to laugh at the show to avoid the reality that they couldn’t find a better way to spend their Sunday evening. (Fine, that’s all a matter of taste.)

But whether you find NPR’s show hilarious or not, self-professed “killjoy” blogger Autumn Sandeen at Pam’s House Blend isn’t laughing. And she’s outlined four reasons why:

1) The North American Intersex Society identifies “hermaphrodite” as a term to avoid;

2) The trans “Bathroom Meme” has been used in arguing against basic civil rights not just for trans folks, but for lesbian, gay, and bisexual people as well;

3) Male terrorists sometimes dress up as women to avoid intensive scrutiny, which has turned airport security into a horror for trans travelers;

4) The “Don’t Ask, Can’t Tell” comment suggests intersex people are gender confused because of genetics, ambiguous genitalia, or other biological factors when that’s not the case.

Sandeen ends her post by saying, “We wouldn’t find it acceptable to mock African-Americans for the color of their skin; we wouldn’t find it acceptable to mock physically disabled people for their disabilities; we wouldn’t find it acceptable to mock women for being women — so why would the host, reporters, and comedians on Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me find it acceptable to mock intersexed people for being intersexed?”

NPR’s likely to ignore it seeing as there’s been little public outcry. Or if they do acknowledge their faux pas, they’ll say “We intended it as a joke, we should have recognized the hurtful nature, and regret any offense.”

But Adam Felber raises and interesting question in the program: What happens to the DADT debate if someone asks about trans and intersex people serving in the military?

Right now, various discriminatory policies preclude transgender and intersexed people from joining the armed forces, including labeled transgender status as a disorder calling for immediate disqualification.

Once out of the military, transgender veterans (who snuck in!) are often unable to secure health care they once they’re done serving due to other discriminatory policies; the Department of Defense lists transgender status and gender identity disorder diagnosis as reasons for automatic disqualifications from military. Plus, “benefits available to most veterans, such as special mortgage and student loan rates, can be difficult to access because inflexible military documentation rules restricting transgender veterans from having appropriate and consistent proof of service.”

So while a DADT repeal wouldn’t automatically open the barracks to trans and intersex recruits, it’d certainly be a step in the right direction. Sure, conservatives would say that “transsexuals can be a risk to military effectiveness, in part because their transformations entail higher-than-average anxiety and depression,” but the military already has psychological screening before enlisting, so shouldn’t any possible mental flaw be caught then? (Then again, the military’s screening keep out the felons, racists, and gang members.)

Not that you’d hear any of this on NPR and its high-larious game show.

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  • Robert

    It’s all done in a joking manner and there’s at least one homosexual on the panel, but STILL it was insensitive, crass, and essentially uncalled for…

  • Pygar

    Great swipe at NPR, Queerty. Go back to organizing your Ayn Rand book club meetings. Remember, there’s a whole news network called Fox, just for you.

  • Tara

    @Pygar: I don’t get what you are saying here. It was not a “swipe”. Something inappropriate was done, they got called to task….seems right to me.

  • Tommy

    1000 words about a joke on a comedy show that doesn’t have anything to do with gay people. Slow day?

    The bigger story is why people in this world are associating gay people with hermaphrodites or intersexed people. These are 2 different groups defined by different characteristics. It is only because of the foul politically correct activists who insisted on creating this monstrosity known as “LGBT” that we are saddled with the association. Gay people don’t have dual genitals. They don’t have corrective surgery. Gay people are attracted to people of the same sex. By contrast, the vast majority of intersexed people are self-identified straight. So why in God’s name does Queerty perpetuate the lie that the two groups are really one?

  • Jesse

    I feel anybody that gets so upset about this isn’t getting the typical way that Wait wait don’t tell me makes jokes.

    They aren’t making fun of Hermaphrodites(AN ACTUAL MEDICAL TERM! NOT a slur for intersex people!) they’re making fun of Duncan Hunter! At no point did they insult Trans people or Intersex people! Every joke was making fun of Duncan Hunter and DADT! The “Don’t Ask, Can’t Tell” joke wasn’t saying that the intersex people couldn’t tell what gender they were. It was that the Duncan Hunters in the world can’t tell what gender they are because they’re only thinking in Binary!

    Also, Point three is COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT TO THE JOKE. They’re talking about INTERSEX people! People who are neither male nor female BIOLOGICALLY. Not mentally not because of some surgery but because they actually do have ambiguous genitals! Whether or not terrorists try and cross-dress has nothing to do with ambiguous genitals!

    And the “Bathroom meme” joke was making fun of Duncan again! They were making fun of people afraid of the bathroom meme! They were joking about how because Hermaphrodites are neither male nor female then they can enter both male and female bathrooms and therefore and a terrorist ran inside a male bathroom then we wouldn’t have to worry if the soldier was a girl and couldn’t enter. It’s funny because it creates a ridiculous scenario where someone wouldn’t pursue a terrorist because they entered a public bathroom and they weren’t the right gender.

    WWDTM is known for intelligent political jokes, and this wasn’t even one of those! It was a simple easy to get joke and I can’t believe anybody misinterpreted this to be making fun of intersex people LET ALONE Trans people! Who aren’t even mentioned outside of the soundclip!

  • Ryan

    The stupidest thing about Hunter’s comment is that humans can’t be hermaphrodites (and no, Jesse, it is not an actual medical term, at least not one that can be applied to people). Hermaphrodites have fully formed genitalia of both sexes and are capable of reproducing with themselves. Last anyone checked, no human in history has been able to do this. Sea horses can do it. Some sponges and worms can. But not humans. Sorry. It’s a term that needs to die.

  • Jon

    NPR is pretty fair to us on programming. Queerty thats just funny! We only lose when we lose hope and a lose of laughter is a loss of hope.

    Lay off NPR!

  • hyhybt

    Just because you don’t get the joke doesn’t mean it was insulting. They used “hermaphrodite” because that’s the term in the quoted material, and the comment about terrorists in both bathrooms seems pretty plainly to be making fun of, or turning on its head, the fears spread about transexuals. Or, alternately, the non-existent hermaphrodites, which, if there were any such thing, could indeed use either restroom.

  • hyhybt

    Sorry, for some reason I only had the first four comments visible when I posted. #5 says it better. I admit that it may be more plainly inoffensive to the ears of regular WWDTM listeners.

  • Rowen

    I’d also like to point out that Pam’s House Blend is very much into this post modern/majority guilt/uber-pc movement that seems to be sweeping the internet.

    This is the same blog that agrees that we shouldn’t use the word “homosexual” because it sounds too clinical and that’s what our enemies use when they want to label gays as a disease.

    Not really my line of thinking, and I’ve found her, and most of the people commenting on her blog, to be overly critical and unable to recognize sarcasm while getting hung up on trying to not be offensive.

    Also, what #5 said.

  • hyhybt

    Besides, if you think THAT was insensitive, you’ll really hate the remark about lepers playing basketball.

  • cranky yankee

    I did hear the interview with Duncan Hunter, but did not catch that portion of Wait, Wait. I attempted to email Congress MAN Hunter but he only accepts emails from his constituents. Yes, I know I could have lied but then I would be no better than him at that point. I think Autumn Sandeen missed the point of the joking-it was to lambaste Rep. Duncan for his ignorance. It’s unfortunate that some people feel that they were caught in the crossfire. I’m trans, not intersexed, but I can certainly relate to all of the groups that Rep. Hunter denegrated and I personally don’t feel any animosity towards the Wait, Wait folks as it was clear that Rep. Hunter, and his extreme ignorance, not the intersexed or the rest GLBT community, was the target. Ease up, will ya?

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